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Strategic HR leadership: Why activating your managers is crucial

Adam Weber, 15Five
Adam Weberhttps://www.15five.com/
Adam Weber is chief evangelist at 15Five, a strategic performance management platform. He is the author of Amazon best-seller "Lead Like a Human,” host of the HR Superstars podcast and a nationally recognized author, speaker and commentator on strategic HR.

This is the fourth part in a five-part series examining the secrets of the top 5% of HR leaders. Read parts one, two and three

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In talking with over 1,000 HR leaders over the past decade, I’ve discovered a recurring theme: Many in HR leadership try to do it all. This superhero tendency exists where they try to shoulder all the work without asking for help. While that may seem commendable, it’s also a large part of the reason 98% of HR leaders are burnt out, according to a Workvivo study.

And it quietly diminishes their career. By trying to carry too much themselves instead of delegating and operationalizing managers, HR leaders become and often stay reactive, unable to do the strategic work because they don’t have the headspace (or time) for it.

Here’s the truth: You can’t do it all on your own.

HR is different from other departments in how it delegates. Other leaders can delegate to their direct reports, but for HR leaders to be truly successful, they have to get the whole organization aligned with them—executives and managers alike.

So, why put such major emphasis on HR’s partnership with managers? Because their performance determines the organization’s performance. People don’t leave their jobs; they leave their managers.

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Seventy percent of the variance in team engagement is determined by the manager, according to research from Gallup. That’s more than any other single factor. The impact HR leaders have on the employee experience dramatically drops after the first 90 days. After that, an employee’s experience is shaped largely by their manager.

To have a positive and productive relationship with managers, HR can’t operate with a command and control mindset. Instead, you have to make their job easier.

Strategies for HR leadership success

Some of the go-to ways HR leaders can support managers include:

First, create consistent management expectations across the organization. A simple way to do this is to develop a one-page guide on what it means to be a manager at your company and lay out the expectations clearly for all to see. Provide role clarity, expectations for results and a framework for how their performance will be measured.

Offer support and resources to guide their success. Training and enablement materials are a great way to do this. How many individual contributors get moved into management roles with no training infrastructure in place to enable them? The best in HR leadership realize management is a learned skill, and having infrastructure for coaching and education is key.

Assess their effectiveness and provide focused support where necessary. Measure their competencies in a performance review or a manager effectiveness survey and maintain open lines of communication about performance. This should not be a once-per-year activity but rather an ongoing feedback loop.

To do this at scale, you have to be able to look at managers from a data-driven perspective. Remember that concept I talked about in part 2: Gone are the days of squishy ideas and gut feelings. You must have the tools to see from a quantitative perspective which managers are performing well, which have room to improve and where there are growth areas and trends collectively across the company where you, as a strategic HR leader, can improve your managers.

We’re almost at the finish line. Stay tuned for the fifth and final part of this series, where I’ll discuss how strategic HR managers share their impact to instill belief in HR across the company.

Hear more from Weber about the secrets of the top 5% of strategic HR leaders in his session at HRE’s upcoming EPIC Conference, April 24-26 in Las Vegas. Click here to register.